Now you know
I was once
for owning
one more
than I
could juggle
without dropping
while my dog
barked warning
that the church
pounded nails
out of scrap iron
ready to pierce
my flesh
as a refresher
for the rows
and rows
of warehoused

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Clay Pigeons

The exit wound
always exceeds the diameter
of the bullet’s initial penetration.

So it is with harsh words.
Just enough velocity to enter
the brain and rattle around,

ricocheting off the bone walls,
shattering self-esteem
like so many clay pigeons.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Dervish Circles

I washed
my shame
with color-safe
and dried it
set on permanent-

I hung
my shame
in my closet,
adjacent to
three, white,

My shame
on a cedar
so moths
would not
eat holes
out of it
and spoil
its sky-jump
color knit
for when
my mind
is a whirl
of dervish

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Schizophrenic Dopey

On a snow white morning,
I woke up and realized,
once and for all time,
that I was Grumpy!

This truth was quickly confirmed
when I discovered
the decapitated bodies
of six metaphysical midgets
strewn about my one-room house,
their floppy hats covered
rigor mortise erections,
and all their hi-ho smiles
were wiped from their contorted faces—

The raven-haired beauty
slept in someone else’s bed,
dreaming she had escaped
the poison apple.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Because the statues
were so much plastic kitsch,
I found it difficult
to take the doctors seriously.

I took their
institutional questions as obscene
while sitting on frayed lawn chairs
on freshly cut grass.

We sat in a half circle
with the psych doctor opposite us,
wondering if our similar defects
make us kin or family.

I had not yet learned
your names or your ages
but the doctor felt at ease
telling everyone our middle names.

The doctor told us we looked beautiful.
Me with my white goatee.
Gale with the bandage around
a self-inflicted gunshot wound in her thigh.

Marla’s face still droopy
after the forced calm of a Thorazine night.
Carlos full of machismo in his wheelchair
knowing diabetes eats his remaining leg.

The doctor asked us to speak our truths
as if her pen was a magic wand
to move the stone over the cave entrance
to allow the Christ to rise.

We talked around metastasized memories
and treatment theories from previous occasions
spent with hospital bands around wrists
and rotations of others in the circle.

We nervously told pornographic jokes.
One of which keyed a lock in Gale’s mental closet
and the memory delivered a first round, one punch
knock out that ended the session.

For participation we were awarded
blue bubble gum cigars,
which lead to Groucho imitations
from the oldest of us.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Turn About

Paul fell into a dark place.
He immediately stopped digging
even though he walked city streets.
He guessed he fell into a manhole.
He worried it was a black hole.

Paul chose to stand silent.
Not a peep came out of him.
After an undefined measure of time
he looked up to determine
if a cap of sky was above him.

There was light above him.
Way far above him.
He could not tell if the light
was sky blue, cloud white
or an inspiring memory.

Paul thought about his falling.
It was not a tail spin.
There was no plunging downward.
There was the abrupt sadness
like a dove hitting a window.

He pulled out his smart phone
and opened his calendar.
A black dot marked this day.
No information followed the dot.
No time frame. It repeated yearly.

Paul recognized this darkness
as the black of a black & white memory.
He tipped his cap to the sadness.
The hurt that formed the sadness receded.
The cap of sky broadened, came closer.

The darkness fell away from Paul.
Turn about was fair play.
Paul acknowledged life does not play fair.
Spotting a nearby bench, he sat.
The bus stop bench accepted his weight.

He examined his daughter’s bright life.
He looked at a black and white memory photo album.
He touched the horror of the day she died.
A bus pulled up to the stop.
Paul continued his walk in the city.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


The monsters that roam your unconscious
were once real in the guise of friends or family.

You may have an anxiety closet
or fear the underside of your bed,

but that is the mind’s manifestation
of buried images from silent era films.

Silence from before your vocabulary developed
or grew large enough to express something insidious

like the misplaced hand that steals the spine
or a common action diverted into the perverse.

Your fluttering eyelids over our coffee cup conversation
confirms emotional bruises and illicit fingerprints.

The secrets you keep are secret only in detail.
Violence without definition, without time stamp or witness.

As your body twists muscles in a squirm
your secrets wring an old blackened torment outward.

I recognize your avoidance techniques.
I realize your emotional heart stopped and blood turned cold.

Though it is plain your ears are not deaf,
my It’s over and Let it go fail to vibrate the ear drum,

to penetrate deep to the living memory
that retains the trespass as clear and present danger.

A moment of relief crosses your eyes
as we switch our talk to the playoffs

and other subjects that leave tears
far from the corners of your eyes.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

About Face

It begins with the bridge into this world.
It recedes as you walk into birth.
You remember it as a song echoing the gap it spanned.
That song defies the delivery, the static wailing.

In times of crises that song rises in your cells.
It works to dispel your denial of the truth.
Your pinched fingers clean dead moths from a window sill
and then their dust from your hands.

You know there are two cliff faces where you stand.
One is real, rock hard, with a river running the bottom.
The other is the choice between conflicting actions,
endings and beginnings and definitions of both.

The real cliff is not the same as when you last visited.
This time tree branches cluster with leaves.
The pungent sage in the air.
The thistles wear the purple of popes.

You arrive here remembering the barrenness.
At least that is what you tell yourself.
But it was the other chasm that requires bridging
that brought you here and a memory of doing so once.

Suddenly, you doubt you fed the dog this morning.
How could you be so negligent?
Doubt roughs you up, both inside and out.
It rubs you raw as it smooths out a thought.

The song breaks through for a moment
and spans the physical chasm with a dusty light.
You feel a leap of faith is required
to bound over the bridge onto a solution.

But you take a step back from both edges.
You realize you do not require definitions
of endings and beginnings.
They are synonymous and daily in appearance.

A line of quail speed past you, take up your attention
and turn you around to follow them.
First with your eyes. Then with your feet.
You are back at your car. Seven miles from your dog.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


When I lived in Taos, NM in the late 1990s, I often went to the Taos Gorge and the trailhead there. I went for walking. I went for the beauty of the mesas. I went for the rent in the earth and the river far below.

Depression was a lot worse for me back then than it is today. I would go to the gorge to think, to processes the multitude of experiences that happened in a week or in the past. There is something about larger than humanity geography that humbles this person. Evidence that the world is far larger than yourself. Why I like living in the mountains, though a sea or great lake coast will do in a pinch.

During my years in Taos, the gorge became a place the people traveled across the country to commit suicide. From the highway bridge to the bottom is more than 800 feet. Some of the people leapt from the edge of the gorge instead of the bridge. The walls are fairly sheer and the rocks jagged enough.

I remember puzzling out my past and my present either in the mountains or along the gorge. My latest therapy session epiphanies. My appreciation of being alone and how it conflicted with a desire for connection. And so on.

Nature had (and has) a way of grounding me. Whether it is the flight of hawk in the gorge. Or the color of a flower bloom. Or the unexpected appearance of an animal. Magpies were favorites. I never felt lonely with magpies about.

I return to this basic poem and write it anew at least once a year. Similar, but different. The gorge. The impassable. And needing to span the fall to go forward. Or to recognize that gulf in the mind is just an old conviction and can be changed with altering attitude or perception.

I seem to rewrite this poem observing myself, separate from myself. Hence the You, even though I am speaking of my footsteps and the nature I stand in.

Love & Light



Lori auctioned off her body parts
each Friday and Saturday night,
but never her kisses.

She has a room within a room
within a room where she waits
the return of herself.

This is a game. This is a shell game.
This is high stakes poker.
This is what a last straw looks like.

Her room has a cold cup of coffee,
the butts of last week’s cigarettes,
a stolen airport sign warning,

Never Leave Your Baggage

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Angela crawled into her cage.
Her cage: a second floor duplex.
A dark cave her depression created.
Carved in the shape of a reading room with no lights.

Angela’s occasional appearances dared us to like her.
She pretended to dislike all of us.
She disliked herself too much to like anyone.
Or believe they could like her.

Her face saw the sun so infrequently it seemed porcelain.
If she located an invisible wall she could be mistaken for a mime.
She had plenty of invisible walls.
Our attempts at friendship ran into them regularly.

Angela was accomplished at suffering.
Her suffering transformed into poetry.
Some of her poetry made your face blanche as white as hers.
To hear her poetry was to experience deranged sacredness.

We asked our local church to add a side alter dedicated to Angela.
The church refused our request.
Her suffering was not recognized by the Vatican.
Angela miracles had not yet been confirmed.

Knowing Angela’s story, we thought her life a miracle.
Being kind toward others after such violence: a miracle.
Being loving toward others after such sexual abuse: a miracle.
See! Two miracles! Pay attention, Vatican!

Angela crawled into her cage one winter.
She relabeled it a cave for hibernation.
It remained a reading room to casual observation.
She placed every ounce of her suffering into new poems.

The white pages could not contain such intensity.
The papers burst into flames and spread.
Her upper burned without damaging the lower unit.
A third miracle, Vatican!

Angela survived this conflagration.
She used it as a metaphor for a gateway.
I saw her smile today at the cafe.
She returned my wave hello.

She seemed more human now, with a ragged sacredness.
Her poems won accolades and awards.
She never read her poems in public.
She refused to live within the province of those words.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Okay. It is Christmas Eve and I am posting a poem about depression and beating depression and the miracle of people living through depression. But the holidays are the most depressing time of the year for depressed people who feel more acutely alone at this time, because they do not have friends or family to spend the holidays with. Or worse, they know they are depressed and purposefully shut themselves off not wishing to detract from others’ joy.

My recollection of reading about the Christian Saints is that most of them were elevated to sainthood for maintaining a christian love while living under strong duress and pain in one form or another. I think people who live with depression, yet find a way to be kind and loving are exerting saint-like effort. Feel free to plug in a different word for depression, like handicapped or poverty.

There are days when I think of the word Jihad. I mean the definition: the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin. People who face adversity must struggle with the easy out of blaming their circumstances for sinful behavior. People who have privilege must struggle against the ease of sinful behavior, since they can use their privilege to bully justice.

I wish for all of you the strength and wisdom to be the kind, loving, caring person who seeks fair play and justice. I expect you to draw boundaries and use strength to maintain yourself, both physically and in spirit. Be who you are wholly and completely.

Love & Light. Tree & Leaf.